MONTREAL — As the Montreal Canadiens prepare to open their main training camp, one of the biggest questions surrounding the roster is the current form of Brendan Gallagher.
There’s no avoiding it, Gallagher, like the majority of the team, struggled last season.
He finished with just 7 goals, but more alarmingly, for the first time in his career, he scored more power play goals (5) than 5v5 goals (1). In fact, his one empty-net goal equalled his total output at 5v5.
Historically speaking, Gallagher has been one of the best 5v5 goal-scorers in the league. For example, between 2017 and 2020, Gallagher outscored every player in the league at 5v5 except for Alex Ovechkin, Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid and Nikita Kucherov. If you even the playing field by filtering the results by goals per 60, Gallagher jumps to third overall, behind just Matthews and Ovechkin.
But something went terribly wrong last year, as evidenced by the chart below.
As you can see, Brendan Gallagher’s goal-scoring rate collapsed last year. He went from one of the best in the league to the worst on the Montreal Canadiens, who happened to finish last in the league.
So, what went wrong?
The first thing that comes to mind was Gallagher’s new settings. For the better part of a decade, Gallagher played on a line with Philip Danault and Tomas Tatar. The trio was one of the best even-strength lines in the league, owing to their fantastic defensive prowess and perfect chemistry.
Beyond that, it’s clear Gallagher did not respond to Dominique Ducharme’s coaching.
Once Martin St-Louis took over, Gallagher’s on-ice underlying numbers skyrocketed, going from below replacement level to well-above average in several key categories, including shot share (CF%), high-danger shot share (HDCF%), Expected Goal Share (xGF%), Goal Share (GF%), and High-Danger Goals Share (GF%).
His bounce-back doesn’t necessarily mean Gallagher will return to form and become one of the best goal-scorers in the league next season, but it does connote he didn’t magically forget how to play hockey, he simply struggled under Ducharme’s system, or lack thereof.
But to get a clearer projection, we must delve into the feisty forward’s individual numbers. After all, Gallagher epitomizes the concept of a volume shooter. He takes more 5v5 shots than almost anyone else in the league, and that leads to a bevy of high-danger chances.
Under Ducharme, Gallagher took a little over 9 shots per 60 minutes of ice time. That number rose slightly once the coaching change took place, rising to 10 shots per 60, well below his career average.
However, he saw a healthy uptick in individual high-danger chances, going from 4.8 chances per 60 to 5.5 chances per 60, almost a 15 percent increase. He also generated 15% more rebounds under St.Louis, which resulted in a 35% increase in individual expected goals.
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There are a few conclusions we can draw from the coaching change.
Despite his on-ice numbers cratering during Ducharme’s tenure, his individual numbers were respectable, and Gallagher should have scored more goals in the first half of the season.
However, even under St.Louis, Gallagher took much fewer shots than his career average. To return to the top of the 5v5 goal-scoring standings, he will have to get back to his normal shooting rate, which hovers just about at 13 shots per 60.
It’s unlikely Gallagher will bring fantastic value to the organization throughout the entirety of his contract, which pays him $6.5 million per season until 2026-27, but on the flip side of the coin, the numbers indicate last season’s poor performance was an outlier rather than the new norm.
Simply put, don’t count Brendan Gallagher out just yet.
(All Statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise specified, via NaturalStatTrick.com)